In psychoanalysis, introjection (German: Introjektion) is the process by which the subject replicates behaviors, attributes, or other fragments of the surrounding world, especially of other subjects. It is considered a self-stabilizing defense mechanism used when there is a lack of full psychological contact between a child and the adults providing that child's psychological needs.[1] Here, it provides the illusion of maintaining relationship but at the expense of a loss of self.[1] Cognate concepts are identification, incorporation,[2] and internalization. To use a simple example, a person who picks up traits from his or her friends is introjecting.

Projection has been described as an early phase of introjection.[3]

Torok and FerencziEdit

However, the aforementioned description of introjection has been challenged by Maria Torok as she favours using the term as it is employed by Sándor Ferenczi in his essay "The Meaning of Introjection" (1912). In this context, introjection is an extension of autoerotic interests that broadens the ego by a lifting of repression so that it includes external objects in its make-up. Torok defends this meaning in her 1968 essay "The Illness of Mourning and the Fantasy of the Exquisite Corpse", where she argues that Sigmund Freud and Melanie Klein confuse introjection with incorporation and that Ferenczi's definition remains crucial to analysis. She emphasized that in failed mourning 'the impotence of the process of introjection (gradual, slow, laborious, mediated, effective)' means that 'incorporation is the only choice: fantasmatic, unmediated, instantaneous, magical, sometimes hallucinatory...crypt effects (of incorporation)'.[4]

According to Freud, the ego and the superego are constructed by introjecting external behavioral patterns into the subject's own person. Specifically, he maintained that the critical agency or the super ego could be accounted for in terms of introjection and that the superego derives from the parents or other figures of authority.[5] The derived behavioral patterns are not necessarily reproductions as they actually are but incorporated or introjected versions of them.[5]

Relational mechanismsEdit

In Freudian terms, introjection is the aspect of the ego's system of relational mechanisms which handles checks and balances from a perspective external to what one normally considers 'oneself', infolding these inputs into the internal world of the self-definitions, where they can be weighed and balanced against one's various senses of externality. For example:

  • "When a child envelops representational images of his absent parents into himself, simultaneously fusing them with his own personality."
  • "Individuals with weak ego boundaries are more prone to use introjection as a defense mechanism."

According to D. W. Winnicott, "projection and introjection mechanisms... let the other person be the manager sometimes, and to hand over omnipotence."[6]

Gestalt therapyEdit

In Gestalt therapy, the concept of "introjection" is not identical with the psychoanalytical concept. Central to Fritz and Laura Perls' modifications was the concept of "dental or oral aggression", when the infant develops teeth and is able to chew. They set "introjection" against "assimilation". In Ego, Hunger and Aggression,[7] Fritz and Laura Perls suggested that when the infant develops teeth, he or she has the capacity to chew, to break apart food, and assimilate it, in contrast to swallowing before; and by analogy to experience, to taste, accept, reject or assimilate. Laura Perls explains: "I think Freud said that development takes place through introjection, but if it remains introjection and goes no further, then it becomes a block; it becomes identification. Introjection is to a great extent unawares."[8]

Thus Fritz and Laura Perls made "assimilation", as opposed to "introjection", a focal theme in Gestalt therapy and in their work, and the prime means by which growth occurs in therapy. In contrast to the psychoanalytic stance, in which the "patient" introjects the (presumably more healthy) interpretations of the analyst, in Gestalt therapy the client must "taste" with awareness his or her experience, and either accept or reject it, but not introject or "swallow whole". Hence, the emphasis is on avoiding interpretation, and instead encouraging discovery. This is the key point in the divergence of Gestalt therapy from traditional psychoanalysis: growth occurs through gradual assimilation of experience in a natural way, rather than by accepting the interpretations of the analyst.


  1. ^ a b Erskine, Richard G. (2018-04-17). Relational Patterns, Therapeutic Presence: Concepts and Practice of Integrative Psychotherapy. Routledge. ISBN 9780429918513.
  2. ^ A form of taking the outside world into the inner world, being focused on bodily sensation.
  3. ^ Malancharuvil JM (December 2004). "Projection, introjection, and projective identification: a reformulation" (PDF). Am J Psychoanal. 64 (4): 375–82. doi:10.1007/s11231-004-4325-y. PMID 15577283. S2CID 19730486.
  4. ^ Jacques Derrida, "Foreword", Nicolas Abraham/Maria Torok, The Wolf Man's Secret Word (1986) p. xvii and p. 119n
  5. ^ a b Wollheim, Richard (1981). Sigmund Freud. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 223. ISBN 052128385X.
  6. ^ "Winnicott, D.W. Home is Where We Start From: Essays by a Psychoanalyst. New York, London: W.W. Norton & Company, 1986. 50.
  7. ^ Perls, F., Ego, Hunger and Aggression (1942, 1947) ISBN 0-939266-18-0
  8. ^ Wysong, J./Rosenfeld, E.(eds.): An oral history of Gestalt therapy. Interviews with Laura Perls, Isadore From, Erving Polster, Miriam Polster, Highland, N.Y. 1982, p. 6.